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Garbage dumping and urban flood risk!
7/29/2021 11:32:43 PM

Dr. Pragya Khanna

John Steinbeck (1902–1968), an American writer once said, “The Mountains of things we throw away are much greater than the things we use. In this, if in no other way, we can see the wild and reckless exuberance of our production, waste seems to be its index”.
The unpleasant smell and ugly sight of garbage dumped on the roadside, sometimes overflowing from drains or floating on the surface of rivers, is not at all uncommon in India. It is disgusting, until you get used to it and begin to ignore it.
Latest News on heavy rains and consequent flash floods is pouring continuously from all over the Country. According to the experts, urban floods are completely manufactured with poorly maintained drains, plastic bags, shrinking open spaces and climate change contributing to accumulation of water on roads after a heavy downpour. We have seen heavy downpours have been disrupting normal life in almost all cities in India now. Flooding in urban areas occurs when water flows into a region faster than it can be absorbed into the soil. One main contributory factor seems to be garbage dumping.
The generation of garbage in India stands at 0.2 to 0.6 kilograms per head per day. Owing to the limited land resource in India the problem of managing the garbage increases manifold. The garbage collector who comes to your house every morning to empty your dustbins inside his cart, takes all the garbage from your neighbourhood and dumps it on a deserted piece of land. Garbage collectors from all parts of the city meet at such places to do the same. Such a land is called a landfill.
Our country’s per capita waste generation is so high, that it creates a crisis if the garbage collector doesn’t visit a colony for a couple of days. Normally, each household waits for the garbage boy with two or three bags of waste. If he doesn’t turn up, the garbage becomes too much to stock up in the house. The household help or maid of the house is then generally directed to take the bags, walk a few yards away maybe towards the end of the lane and plonk the bags there. Imitating one household, all the others facing the same dilemma in the neighbourhood immediately tag along. This land, at the end of the lane, soon becomes the neighbourhood’s very own garbage deposit and a convenient place to dump anything if the garbage boy doesn’t show up. Later, when the magnitude of the waste becomes too much to bear and in the humid conditions of summer months when the troubles associated with illegal dumping become significant and diseases are feared, the same residents march up to their colony’s welfare association, go to municipality office, invite media personnel and demand for the waste to be cleaned up at once. The waste is then picked up from there and dumped in another piece of land this time further away from the colony probably in a landfill. The health risks associated with such accumulation of wastes in open areas are manifold. Areas used for open dumping may be easily accessible to people, especially children, who are vulnerable to the physical and chemical hazards posed by wastes. Rodents, insects, and other vermin attracted to open dump sites may also lead to diseases. Dump sites with scrap tires provide an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes, which can multiply 100 times faster than normal in the warm stagnant water standing in scrap tire causing several illnesses. Burns and other injuries can occur resulting from occupational accidents and methane gas exposure at waste disposal sites.
It is a well-known fact that the cities that are fortunate enough to have a river passing through them have an additional dump for all their garbage. The condition of the Yamuna River in Delhi is a authentication to this fact. The river practically doesn’t flow at all. Huge amount of white deposits can be seen on the surfaces that prevent the flow. The deposits are nothing but toxic wastes that have reacted with the water. Virtually there is no life in this section of the river.
The waste is not subjected to recycling, composting or any other form of environmental treatment. Hazardous toxic wastes lie side by side with the organic wastes in the landfill.
The common man living in a populated urban city can tell you that the garbage boy seems to take holidays every now and then thus creating problems for the neighbourhood. Instead of putting the blame on the municipality for not having enough resources to collect all the garbage, let us consider the idea of minimizing the waste generation at least in our own house.
As individuals, we need to realize that we do generate quite a lot of waste. We dispose of containers that can be reused and we throw away papers that can be recycled. It is important to reduce our wastage of resources so that we do not pressurize our weak waste disposal system. The garbage has basic four broad categories, viz., organic waste, that is, kitchen waste, vegetables, flowers, leaves, fruits; toxic waste like old medicines, paints, chemicals, bulbs, spray cans, fertilizer and pesticide containers, batteries, shoe polish; recyclable waste like paper, glass, metals, plastics, hospital waste. The main sources of this municipal waste are many like household waste, commercial places, street sweeping, hotels and restaurants, clinics and dispensaries, construction and demolition, horticulture, sludge etc.
While it is true that only some portion of this waste is non-biodegradable and the rest organic waste can be decomposed and biodegraded naturally with time. However, the question is how much time, Yes! Garbage decomposes and, given enough time, bits of trash will disintegrate. But, the amount of time required may surprise you. Look at the table below:
Banana Peel may take a month
Paper - a couple of months
Wool Scarf - a year
Cigarette Butt - 5 years
Disposable Diaper - 2 decades
Hard Plastic Container - 3 decades
Rubber Boot Sole - 7 decades
Tin Can - a century
Aluminum Can - 3 centuries
Plastic 6-pack Holder - 5 centuries
Glass Bottles - eons
Every year during the monsoon, many cities in our country witness devastating floods which are mostly caused by poor drainage systems, with illegal constructions making the things worse. It is agreed by the scientists all over the globe that solid waste management is a great and growing problem for particularly countries in the developing world and is often a neglected aspect of urban management. However, poor waste management can contribute to the impact of urban flooding by blocking drainage, increasing debris and harbouring disease vectors.
Waste management is often seen as a low status occupation with poor wages and therefore there is generally a lack of relevant training and expertise. The low level of awareness relating to the health and sanitation insinuations of poor waste management also leads to an absence of pressure from civil society that further adds to the dilemma. Moreover, lack of resources and funds further perpetuates the low status of waste management with little or no money to purchase equipment, train staff and develop disposal sites. You will not disagree that poor wages can also encourage absenteeism. These factors not only result in inadequate collection and disposal of waste on the roads and lanes, near the water bodies and all inappropriate locations in sub-urban areas but also tend to lead to concentration of resources in city centres and total neglect of the needs of informal settlements.
Research literature validates that poor waste management is a recurrent problem that is set to get worse with the rapid expansion of urban areas in the developing world and the inability of municipalities to resource the necessary waste collection. The case studies by different environmentalists confirmed that solid waste management is a major contributory factor to urban flooding across the globe with examples from Asia, Africa and Latin America. For many the examples of blocked drainage are particularly implicated in localised flash flooding, however, solid waste is also seen to worsen the impact of all types of floods.
There is a dire need to educate the public to bring change in their attitude towards dumping and reduction of waste.
As a result of unabated consumerism, which has pervaded our lifestyle, we are producing waste of complex composition to the tune of nearly 1,00,000 tones in urban India with a total 7395 towns and cities including 53 cosmopolitan cities, 468 class-1 towns, 401 class-2 towns and remaining small towns with populations ranging between 20,000 to less than 5000.
There are a number of ways you can reduce garbage. Remember, the less garbage, the less items that need to be recycled! Here is a list of some of the things you can do to reduce garbage:
• Use a reusable lunch bag or box; so you do not need to throw away a paper bag everyday!
• When you make a purchase, carry a reusable bag and do not take a bag from the market unless you absolutely need one.
• Rent things you use infrequently instead of purchasing them.
• Use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins.
• Use a sponge or cloth instead of paper towels.
• Look for items that use little or no packaging.
• Use reusable plastic containers for food instead of plastic bags.
• Use rechargeable batteries instead of disposable ones.
• Read books, magazines and newspapers at the library instead of purchasing them.
• Use plates, cups, and utensils that can be washed instead of ones you throw away.
• Purchase items like juice and detergent in concentrate when possible.
• Avoid buying foods in single serving packages.
The core message of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is to consume less and produce as little waste as possible. It is an old slogan, but it is also a great maxim to keep you focused on the daily steps to create less waste. Did you know that the words are in the order of preference for real waste control? Reduce what you use first; then reuse what you do consume; and when waste is created, recycle it if possible.
Changing your habits is the key, think about ways you can reduce your waste when you shop, work and play. There are a million ways for you to reduce waste, save yourself some time and money, and be good to the Earth at the same time.
There must be a reason why some people can afford to live well. They must have worked for it. I only feel angry when I see waste. When I see people throwing away things we could use.
-Mother Teresa
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